Why Previn was right for the 70s and the Finns are wrong for now

Why Previn was right for the 70s and the Finns are wrong for now


norman lebrecht

June 30, 2019

From my new essay in Standpoint magazine:


If you hadn’t noticed that the Philharmonia Orchestra has a new chief conductor, don’t feel too bad about it. The appointment by a disappearing London institution of yet another double-barrelled Finn is unlikely to set hearts pounding in Penge or points south, no matter how gifted the young chap might be. Santtu-Matias Rouvali his name is, and he told The Times in a PR interview that he rips the hide off woodland deer before cooking it—anything to obtain a sliver of public attention. Well, that’s pretty much all the general public are ever going to hear about him….

The last maestro to win popular acclaim died earlier this year amid fond chuckles and snobbish disparagement. André Previn never inspired the overwhelming confidence of musicians. The LSO leader John Georgiadis recalls in a new memoir, Bow to Baton, that he responded to Previn’s appointment with the declaration: “I greet this news with utter dismay!” Things got no better…

But….. Read on here.

When you’ve finished, watch the less-viewed comeback version of the immortal Mr Preview:


  • Bob Boles says:

    [[ he rips the hide off woodland deer before cooking it ]]

    Well, jolly good for him, eh? He takes sadistic pleasure in killing woodland animals for fun. He’s made it to my Shit List before I’ve even heard a note of his dire music-making. Am I supposed to have heard of this patheric individual? Because I certainly haven’t, and I will take every possible step to avoid him, his concerts and his orchestra in future. If this was supposed to be PR, it’s been a rip-roarious disaster.

    • Paul Brownsey says:

      “before I’ve even heard a note of his dire music-making. ”

      So how do you know it’s dire?

      • Bob Boles says:

        With an unrepentant BUTCHER on the podium, the chances of any finesse in his performances are already ZERO. Decent-minded people can and will boycott everything he does.

    • christopher storey says:

      I agree with Bob Boles. Giving interviews, particularly in a foreign language, is fraught with hazard, and it appears that this conductor has given considerable offence before he has even set foot on the rostrom . It will take a huge amount of digging to get him out of this hole

      • Max Grimm says:

        With all of this heat, it’s best not to get too hot under the collar too quickly. While I agree that giving interviews in a foreign language can have its risks, I will point out that NL at times has a tendency to paraphrase rather, shall we say, colorfully. So, we may wish to read the Times interview ourselves before judging anyone’s verbiage. And while many may find it unsavory, it is rather common the world over to remove an animal’s hide, once it has been dispatched, if one plans on eating it.
        Personally, I find Rouvali far less objectionable than certain idiots, who pay obscene amounts of money to roam other countries, killing exotic animals just because they want bragging rights, trophies and photos for their Instagram and Facebook.
        Those who disapprove of the butchering of animals for food would be well advised to direct their indignation at the companies “preparing” the chicken/fish/beef/pork one finds at the supermarket, rather than a Finn who hunts a deer every once in a while.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          If you eat meat, then you have to accept that it has been killed, and sliced up, before it arrives on your plate.

  • L.F. says:

    Another Rouvali-bashing. But Rouvali is not just another Finn, as good as they genereally are. I have it from three top-musicans who have collaborated with him, that he is in a class all by himself, outstanding, inspiring and electrifying, and also not really interested in PR. From this one can predict that he will win over the London public in a short time and attract a new public to the Philharmonia.

  • Anon. says:

    So who, in your opinion, should be the new principal conductor of the Philharmonia and what could they do to put the orchestra on the map?

    • Alexander Hall says:

      Members of the public who take an interest in such matters need to understand that the musicians themselves have to work with the individual they pick to be their boss, especially if they are a self-governing orchestra. They are unlikely in this particular case to have chosen somebody with whom there is little or no personal chemistry. That said, we also need to keep in mind that orchestras are sometimes rushed into making the wrong choice (Eschenbach in Philadelphia, for instance, or Nagano in Manchester), or put the prospect of financial solvency above all other considerations (Sinopoli’s huge contract with DG in the 1980s was a big enough temptation for the Philharmonia back then). A lot of the less-than-enthusiastic comment at Rouvali’s appointment derives from the fact that he has so far only conducted half a dozen dates with the Philharmonia in London and none of these has included core Austro-German repertory (no Mozart or Haydn, no Beethoven, no Brahms and no Bruckner or Mahler either). You would expect a new principal conductor to have been tested more thoroughly in an orchestra’s staple diet. There are a number of other names who have been associated with the orchestra for many years (Paavo Järvi, Tugan Sokhiev spring to mind) and who already have a much bigger international profile than Rouvali and who might and should have been considered. We may never know what ultimately led to this particular decision: it could have been the desire to choose someone who will create a media stir and hit the headlines for sometimes non-musical reasons (Mirga in Birmingham and Dudamel in Los Angeles are demonstrating that there is no such thing as bad publicity). It may also be a reflection of the fact that London can no longer attract the really big international names, and linked to that is the question of finance. If you are an established conductor and you can get a three-course meal elsewhere, why settle for peanuts? It is, after all, conspicuous that it is taking the LPO – whose principal conductor announced his departure well before Salonen did – quite some time to find a replacement for Jurowski. Their principal guest conductor, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, doesn’t even have a single RFH date with them in the coming season. Such signs are not exactly promising: this is unlikely to be a golden age for the London orchestras in general.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        In the past, money made on recordings allowed decent earnings above the not particularly basic salaries of the London orchestras. Now that the record industry no longer generates much for the orchestras, London will struggle.

  • MacroV says:

    I don’t know much about cooking deer and the significance of removing the hide before doing so, but I HAVE seen Rouvali in action, with the excellent Goteborg Symphony, and came away quite impressed. I’m not sure what the point is of comparing him to Previn as a public figure.

    • Bob Boles says:

      [[ I’m not sure what the point is of comparing him to Previn as a public figure.]]

      Presumably by comparing a much-loved and engaging musical personality with a loathsome little psychopath whose career in Britain is over before it’s begun.

      • Robert Groen says:

        Calm down, Boles! This is the sort of language that may expose you to litigation. I’m sure he has more money for lawyers than you do.

  • Rob says:

    He comes “From a family of musicians.”

  • John Rook says:

    André Previn, what a great sport.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    Sorry, afraid I’m lost with this argument. Are we saying that the Georgiadis quote has some validity and that AP was hyped ? Not quite sure how these points link up

  • VIolinaccordion says:

    Previn s recording of much English music is pretty damn impressive , Walton Ist Symphony
    And Violin Concerto with Chung to name a couple

  • VIolinaccordion says:

    Previn s recording of much English music is pretty damn impressive , Walton Ist Symphony
    And Violin Concerto with Chung to name a couple

  • Peter says:

    Thank you for the other Morcambe and Wise excerpt. I really enjoyed it.

    Since so many correspondents of this blog are Fiber conductors, performers, composers and managers than those they so liberally comment on, surely there is a simple solution. Viz, the corespondents of this blog will be able to organise and perform concerts and competitions of such startling brilliance and sartorial elegance that we will see what everyone from Previn to Yuja have been unable to achieve.

  • Peter says:

    Oh and they will type better than I do. “Finer” not “Fiber”

  • Patrick says:

    He is a top musician and the best the Philharmonia could come with.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Wow, somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed today!
    Have a nice cuppa tea, Norman, there’s a good lad.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Previn. All class. And talent.